Objective: To elucidate the relationships between age, return to level I sport (RTS) within the first postoperative year, passing RTS criteria and second anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
Methods: In a prospective cohort study, 213 athletes were followed for 2 years after ACL reconstruction to record second ACL injuries. Independent variables were age, passing RTS criteria and level I RTS within the first postoperative year (vs later or no RTS). We defined passing RTS criteria as ≥90 on the Knee Outcome Survey - Activities of Daily Living Scale, global rating scale of function and quadriceps strength/hop test symmetry.
Results: The follow-up rate was >87% for all outcomes. In multivariable analysis, level I RTS within the first postoperative year and passing RTS criteria were highly associated with second ACL injury (level I RTS HR: 6.0 (95% CI: 1.6 to 22.6), pass RTS criteria HR: 0.08 (95% CI: 0.01 to 0.6)), while age was not (age HR: 0.96 (95% CI: 0.89 to 1.04)). Athletes <25 years had higher level I RTS rates in the first postoperative year (60.4%) than older athletes (28.0%). Of those who returned to level I sport in the first postoperative year, 38.1% of younger and 59.1% of older athletes passed RTS criteria.
Conclusion: High rates of second ACL injury in young athletes may be driven by a mismatch between RTS rates and functional readiness to RTS. Passing RTS criteria was independently associated with a lower second ACL rate. Allowing more time prior to RTS, and improving rehabilitation and RTS support, may reduce second ACL injury rates in young athletes with ACL reconstruction.
Keywords: anterior cruciate ligament; anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction; knee function; knee injury; return to sport.
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